HARLEM — A chef who helped cater Chelsea Clinton's wedding and was one of the Food Network's former Extreme Chefs is setting up his sauce pan on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard.
Kansas City-born chef Lance Knowling will open Blujeen at 2143 Fredrick Douglass Blvd. in mid-February. The menu of the restaurant and wine bar will offer classic soul, southern and comfort food with a modern spin, he said.
“I think we’ll have several dishes here that you can’t get anywhere else,” Kowling, 50, said.
Blujeen's menu will be a mix of old and new. The black-eyed peas, for example, will be served with duck confit instead of bacon, he said.
Although the chef didn't want to give away to many details about his menu, Knowling said people can expect barbecue, “great fried chicken,” and burgers.
Meat for the burgers will come from Harlem Shambles, a local butcher shop down the block, he added.
Knowling has been cooking in New York City hotels and restaurants since moving into the city in 1988. In 2002 he opened Indigo Kitchen, a catering company whose clients include Queen Latifah, Whoopi Goldberg and the New York Jets, according to its website.
In 2010, Knowling was part of the 20-chef team that catered Chelsea Clinton's wedding.
“There was a whole team of chefs for 500 people,” he said. “It was an all-day event. That was the only time I worked 24 hours.”
Knowling helped prepared hors d'oeuvres for the bridal party before the ceremony. The plates included deviled eggs with salmon and caviar.
He also prepared the vegetarian option for the main dinner, which was served to the father of the bride.
“Bill Clinton ate it,” Knowling said. “He wasn’t a vegetarian but he was watching his weight at the time so he had the vegetarian portion.”
Knowling has been wanting to open a restaurant in Harlem ever since he first visited the neighborhood in the '70s. Although he grew up in Kansas City, he had family who lived in town.
“Coming here I was like, 'wow,’” he said. “It was so awesome I couldn’t wait. That was always my goal.”
He envisions Blujeen becoming a neighborhood restaurant, a place where you can come in for a great burger or get dressed up and bring a date, he said.
Knowling hopes to contribute to Harlem's growing reputation as a culinary destination. Marcus Samuelsson, the owner of Red Rooster who has cooked for President Barack Obama, will open a new rotisserie chicken restaurant called Streetbird just a couple of doors down from Blujeen.
While Knowling said it is an honor to be Samuelsson’s neighbor, he may be tempted to poach some of his more famous clients.
“My hope is that there’s a long line and the president has to wait outside," he joked. "Maybe we can go grab him and bring him in here.”